Coach Development

Jack Brazil

This blog comes from the fantastic, and well travelled, Jack Brazil, currently coaching at PSV Eindhoven. Please enjoy!

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?  

I am Jack Brazil, 29 years old, originally from Epsom, England. I spent the majority of my childhood in Nottingham, and I loved football from the moment Michael Owen scored vs Argentina in 1998. I played for hours in the park, garden, street, anywhere I could find space, and loved watching football every weekend and weeknight. I couldn’t get enough of it. Even at primary school, I was drawing out the best formations and line-ups for my school team and professional teams across Europe.

My playing abilities were sadly never quite enough, and I had some poor experiences with coaches in my younger ages. As a 10/11 year old I was frequently sat on the bench for my local grassroots team, and in some games, I wouldn’t get any playing time as the dad in charge was so focussed on winning. As I continued with different teams, I found less and less love for playing, whilst maintaining my love for watching the game from a tactical viewpoint.

Watching the champions league was the ultimate for me. I loved the different cultures, styles and the opportunity to watch players I only ever read about as they weren’t on TV every week. The Galactico’s of Real Madrid fascinated me, particularly when Beckham and Owen were signed, and I enjoyed watching their Champions League games. Zidane, Ronaldo, Figo, Casillas, Raul, Roberto Carlos, Makelele, everything about this team was so exciting as a young boy. Barcelona with Ronaldinho, Iniesta, Xavi, Puyol, Eto’o, unbelievable teams to watch full of talent. I found AC Milan so exciting to watch, they were different to other Italian teams, built around the flair of Kaka and Rui Costa with the finishing instincts of Shevchenko and Inzaghi, alongside the defensive solidarity of Maldini and Costacurta, not to mention the midfield brilliance of Pirlo, Gattuso and Seedorf and the speed and crossing ability of the overlapping Cafu. It was a mystery to me as to how these teams didn’t win everything with the players they had, but now looking back I think this was part of the beginning of my love for the organisation of football teams and coaching.

Around this time Mourinho and Benitez came to England, with Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, and changed my understanding of what a ‘coach’ was. Neither of these coaches had played at the highest level, and for me this was the first time I really looked at coaching as a profession I could follow. The most interesting thing for me about Mourinho and Benitez was the unparalleled success they were having without ‘top-class’ players at their disposal. Both at Porto and Chelsea, Mourinho was successful without the strongest squads (As his Chelsea reign continued, it undoubtedly improved through financial investment) and Benitez won an improbable La Liga with Valencia and then the Champions League with Liverpool.

As I turned 16 in 2009, it became a straightforward move for me to take my first coaching badge. I started my FA Level 1 at 16 and began volunteering at my local club with their U15 team. I assisted with the coaching and enjoyed the process of learning on the job week after week, reflecting and improving. At 18, I then took a U19 team which consisted of a lot of my peers. We played in a mid-week semi-pro academy league, against local teams in the higher end of the non-league pyramid in the Nottingham area. This was a great challenge for me, and alongside my FA Level 2, it gave me a chance to coach even more. During this year, I also completed an internship as a sports scientist at Nottingham Forest’s academy, giving me my first taste of the professional game.

At 19 I started at Coventry University, studying Sport and Exercise Sciences. This led to 3 of the best years of my life, full of learning and development. I cannot speak highly enough of the university, who supported me and pushed me in equal measure to improve myself as a coach. In my first year, I was made assistant coach of the University 4th team, before growing to 3rd team Head Coach and ‘Football Activator’ in my 2nd year. With this new role, I was entrusted to grow football participation across campus, whilst offering more opportunities for students to represent the university against other local universities. In my 3rd and final year, I was made President of the Men’s Football society and 2nd team Head Coach, assisting with the 1st team as well whenever needed. This responsibility was fantastic for me, and I am so proud of what we achieved as a men’s football society, growing the programme in numbers, while improving our BUCS standing year on year, with the success continuing after I left. The people before me and the people after me worked hard to do this, so I was and still am extremely proud to have played my part in helping CUFC.

Alongside my university work and coaching, I worked for Sky Blues in the Community (Coventry City’s community programme), running soccer schools, after school programmes and coaching their U16 development centre team. This was again an experience which was valuable, coaching across age groups every day and getting the hours in to reflect and improve my coaching practice.

During my university summer breaks I was fortunate enough to gain funding for work experience overseas, and I made sure to utilise this. I emailed every FA across the world and many clubs across the first and second divisions world-wide, offering my services if they could find me accommodation and food. I didn’t get many replies for the thousands of emails sent out, however in my first year I was fortunate enough to get a reply from Enkhjin Batsumber in Mongolia, the President of Mongolian Premier League club, Bayangol FC. They offered me the Head Coach role for my flights, accommodation, and food, and 3 weeks later I jumped on a plane to Ulan Bataar (Via Moscow). The 2 months which followed were life changing. I saw things which changed my outlook on football, coaching but more so, life itself. I met some unbelievable people, who worked so hard for little to no money, to support their family and their dreams. It was extremely humbling to be a part of this club and some of the people associated with the clubs’ journeys. I will forever have UB and Bayangol in my heart. The football itself was enjoyable, with the team training 4 times a week plus a game day. I had to leave partway through the season, but the team ended up finishing 2nd in the league and runner up in the cup with players mainly 16-20 years old. I now see many of the boys being paid to play within Mongolia and representing their nation, which makes me proud. I also see many of the boys leading good lives, working hard, enjoying themselves and starting families, which makes me equally proud. I came home a very different person to the young man who got on that plane at the end of my first year of university.

One of the FA’s I had emailed, the Turks and Caicos Islands Football Association, had been keen on me coming to visit during the gap between 1st and 2nd year, however due to internal staff changes, this was not possible. However, the following year, I contacted the new Technical Director Craig Harrington, and he was fantastic in helping organise a trip for me to go and coach with their football association. The catch was I had to bring a team with me, so in the summer after my 2nd year, myself and 17 other Coventry University Football Club members travelled to the Turks and Caicos Islands for 3 weeks of football. We played several games vs local teams and coached different youth national teams throughout our stay. As the leader of the group, this gave me great satisfaction as I saw our group grow as both coaches and people.

That summer I also coached Europa Point FC, a Gibraltarian team in the 2nd division. I assisted their preparation for the season with another coach from Coventry University (Dan Smith, who had also travelled to the Turks and Caicos), and we spent time between Spain and Gibraltar coaching the team. It was a busy summer, but full of fantastic experiences.

During my final year of university, I connected with 100’s of coaches across the world on LinkedIn. One cold February morning, I woke up to a missed call from the Cayman Islands. Upon calling back, I was offered the chance to coach a 2 week camp on Grand Cayman. The 2 weeks were fantastic, I worked long days doing camps and then coaching teams in the evening on top. At the end of this experience, I was offered a full time job, so upon completion of my university education, I moved full time to Grand Cayman where I coached in a pay-to-play ‘academy’ day to day, alongside being the Head Coach for Cayman Premier League team Academy SC.

The 2 years I spent in Cayman were some of the most rewarding I’ve had in coaching. Success on the field came quickly, with us improving our previous seasons results, using more of ‘academy’ youth players, and winning the club’s first ever trophy in the 2nd season. The main success however was in how many of players went on the full-time scholarships in US colleges/universities and into playing opportunities in the UK. I am extremely proud of what we achieved in Cayman, and whilst it sounds idyllic, it was hard work to help change the culture and the attitude of the players. Hours upon hours were put into both achieve results on the pitch, whilst supporting our players to achieve in their schooling so we could get them a better life and education off-island. It makes me proud to see how the boys I worked with every day have developed and become the men they are today.

After 2 years in the beautiful Caribbean, I was itching to feel a more professional environment and this presented itself as a part-time opportunity in Norway. I moved to Vålerenga IF on a part-time contract (With full time hours!), coaching their U16-2 team and helping lead their ‘academy’ programme, the equivalent of the Foundation Phase in England. After 3 months, I was offered the chance to be an assistant with the U16 Elite team, and after 15 months I signed my first full-time contract, becoming the Head Coach of the U12 Elite team and leader of the U13-19 grassroots team’s programme. A year later, I was offered the role of U14 Elite Head Coach.

Vålerenga IF was a good club to start my journey back into European football. I quickly rose through the ranks, getting lots of good opportunities whilst also learning to coach in a second language. Particularly in my first 2 years there, we developed some top players to sell to top clubs in Europe, and it is great to see the success they are having now.

During the COVID lockdowns whilst I was in Norway, I became very active on Twitter, posting lots of analysis on different teams, mainly Manchester City. A coach from PSV saw this analysis, and after talking for a year about football and our ideas, I travelled to Eindhoven for 4 days to take a session and present my coaching methodology to several coaches and the Academy Director.

2 weeks later, I was offered a role at PSV as a coach/video analyst and moved here in July 2021. My first season I was primarily with our U17’s as video analyst, assisting with coaching across the U10-23’s boys academy and with the women’s team wherever required. This led to a great experience whereby I met and worked with nearly every players in the academy and every coach.

In my 2nd season, I am now full time U17 assistant coach, with responsibilities for developing and implementing the PSV methodology and our international programme with our partner clubs. It’s been a long journey, but I am proud of where I am now and excited for my future.

What is it about your role that you love?

After experiencing poor coaching environments as a child, I am motivated to make sure that everyone in the team’s I coach never have that experience. I love seeing people develop into better human beings and players, and it gives me immense pride when I am part of that journey.

Winning is also addictive to me. I love the feeling of winning after putting in hard work throughout the weeks and months prior to prepare the team for that. Seeing your ideas come together in a cohesive, coherent display from a team is such a good feeling.

In teams I am always working hard to make people feel they belong. I am a big believer in creating environments where people feel free to be themselves, creative and expressive, but with the highest standards and values always expected. When I see players taking responsibility for themselves and their teammate, that is the ultimate form of satisfaction. Setting the example for this is a challenge I face every day, mandating I am at my best every minute.

What have you found different from coaching in the UK?

In each culture, I find a different challenge.

Mongolia was my first experience of this. In Mongolia, hierarchy was extremely important, so as soon as I was introduced as coach I had the players respect. They would do everything and anything I asked, so I had to plan questioning and sessions effectively to make players discuss solutions and embed their learning. They were used to a ‘follow the leader’ approach, without much internal thinking, giving me a challenge as a coach to remove myself as the central lynchpin the team. I needed the players to become a self-organising team rather than the reflection of my instructions.

This was similar in both Caribbean contexts I coached in, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands. As relationships improved, I got more discussion from the players and due to this, their understanding and information retention improved. In Cayman football was so different to what I was used to due to the physical capabilities of the players, they were so fast but also had very little endurance. This meant to game was played at either 100% or 10-20% speed, with little in between. That meant the playing style had to be altered to fit this. We used pauses in our game by keeping possession at the back to allow recovery from our forwards players, before playing 1 pass became a trigger to increase the speed and energy of our play and move to 100% again. I loved the tactical challenge we faced every week, with different teams having different backgrounds, Latinos being mainly a Hispanic team, Sunset being mainly European/American and Roma being mainly Jamaican. Our team was a blend, with the majority being Caymanian, with several Jamaicans, English, Costa Ricans, and Canadians complementing this. It was such a challenge to manage these cultures and align us all to one goal.

In Norway, the coach was a little more on the players level (Or closer) so I was more susceptible to questioning from the players. I embraced this, as really enjoyed the challenge of challenging the players knowledge but also them doing the same for me. The process of improving together here was a lot more easily defined as the players were more involved in the process and came to us with suggestions and ideas daily. This really helped me develop delegation skills, finding what I could comfortably give to the players whilst holding I found most important to myself. This was also my first experience of coaching in a second language, and while I made lots of mistakes, this experience only gained me more respect from the players.

Here in the Netherlands, the coach is even closer to the players. In fact, I would say it took a year to gain the respect of the players due to their questioning and high demands. As a coach in the Netherlands, it is essentially you know the ‘why’ of everything you do, and if you are going to make a coaching point, it must be planned, well thought out and detailed otherwise the players will question you and tear you apart. They are extremely smart and well versed on tactics and technique from a young age, so a collaborative is necessary with all Dutch players.

Are there any challenges that you currently face or have previously faced from coaching abroad?

Previously, it was around doing my badges with the English FA. The UEFA A was impossible whilst living in the Caribbean due to the 6 blocks of 3 days programme. The cost of flights would have been too much as well as the travel time and time off required. However, the New Zealand Football Federation and Oceania Football Confederation ran an A Licence course in 2 blocks of 10 days, so after a little research, I booked onto this instead. What a good decision this was. A fantastic course which I enjoyed. I wish there were 6 blocks of it!

Now, my challenge is to have experience outside of the UK recognised inside the UK. Whilst I am happy in the Netherlands, I eventually would like to return to the UK, and the difficulty of building a network outside of the country is difficult, but not impossible. Social media is highly important for this!

Are there any countries that you would love to coach in? If so, why?

I’d love to coach in Spain, Portugal and Germany. Spain based on my obsession with Real Madrid and Barcelona as a child, but more so now my appreciation of the Spanish model and the various footballing playing styles on display every week in the Spanish leagues. I love the contrast of Atletico Madrid’s style to Villareal to Athletic Bilbao and then to Barca and Real. It’s a fantastically diverse footballing culture, with an obsession around winning in some regions but art in others.

Portugal is due to my experiences working with Portuguese coaches previously. The clarity of thought, detailed approach and methodological planning makes me envious of Portuguese coaching education. For me, it is the ultimate in coaching education as it is research based and holistic in approach. I’d love to work in Portugal, applying my knowledge of tactical periodisation and learning others implementation of this training methodology and other methodologies within the country.

Finally, I enjoy the passion and energy of German football. In the Netherlands, nearly every club has an ‘ultras’ section, which does not stop signing every week. This is the same in Germany, but on a mass scale. I love the way football is still for the people there, with fan ownership models mandated. Football is more than just a sport, it is an identity to many Germans, similar to how the English feel about the game.

Do you have a preferred style to coaching?

Collaboration is the key to success in my coaching, in everything we do. I cannot identify one ‘aspect’ of this coaching to confidently describe my ‘style’ as it is always adapting and changing based on the culture and context I am working within. In some contexts, I am focussed on developing the tactical systems of the team, whereas in others the social values of a team need more focus. This holistic approach leads to improvement of all areas of the team, as individual players, as human beings and as a group. Creating an atmosphere of belonging is key, based on my personal values of happiness, belief, respect and energy. If these things are aligned, we will be successful in all we do.

What is your next step? What is your long term aim?

My next step is to become a Head Coach again, before making my way eventually to first team professional football. There may be some more stop offs first in Academy football, in other countries if possible, to learn languages, cultures and improve myself before I hopefully get an opportunity to become a Head Coach at adult level.

Long term, I want to coach top division football in Europe and in the Champions League. Hearing that anthem takes me back to being 6 years old, watching the CL on ITV on a weeknight, far too late to be awake with my father. For me, it is the ultimate. When I stand on the side-lines in a full stadium and hear the anthem, it will be a special moment for me.

Any tips for other coaches out there in regards to coaching? What about tips for coaching abroad?

I share these tips a lot, but every job I have got outside of the UK I have not applied for. I have been contacted via social media or from my profile. The key for coaches wanting to work outside of the UK, but also for other coaches in other nations wanting to work away from their home country, is to have a good social media presence showing your qualities. Share your session videos, analysis, book reviews, anything which you think is congruent and relevant to the image you want to give off. Also, keep developing yourself as you never know when the next opportunity is coming, so when it comes, you are ready to be the best you can be. Don’t wait for the opportunity to prepare, make sure you are fully ready when the time comes!

Twitter: @jackbraz29

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